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Taiko drummers in Aichi, Japan
Taiko (太鼓) means "drum" in Japanese (etymologically "great" or "wide drum"). Outside Japan, the word is often used to refer to any of the various Japanese drums, (和太鼓, "wa-daiko", "Japanese drum", in Japanese) and to the relatively recent art-form of ensemble taiko drumming (sometimes called more specifically, "kumi-daiko" (組太鼓)). The performances can last between 5 and 25 minutes and typically follow a jo-ha-kyū (beginning, middle, end/rapid, sudden, urgent, and emergency) structure, which means the performance will speed up significantly towards the grand finale.
Types of taiko 
Taiko, in general, are 3 sticks percussion instruments. With the exception of the "ko-tsuzumi" and "ō-tsuzumi", all taiko are struck with bachi. They have heads on both sides of the drum body, and a sealed resonating cavity. Taiko are also characterized by a high amount of tension on the drums heads, with a correspondingly high pitch relative to body size. This high tension likely developed in response to Japan's wet and humid summers when most festivals take place. Many taiko are not tunable, and a drum with high head tension would counteract the slacking effects of humidity.
Taiko are categorized into two types of construction. "Byō-uchi-daiko" (鋲撃ち太鼓, tacked-struck drum) taiko have heads nailed to the body. "Shime-daiko" (締め太鼓, tightened drum), have heads sewn onto iron rings, which are then laced to each other around the drum body.
Byō-uchi-daiko are typically hollowed out of a single piece of wood. The preferred wood is "keyaki" (欅) due to its density and beautiful grain, but a number of other woods are used, grouped under the generic term "meari" (目有). Byō-uchi-daiko cannot be tuned, and their sizes are limited by the diameter of the tree they are made from.
The typical byō-uchi-daiko is the "nagadō-daiko" (長胴太鼓, long-body taiko). The nagadō-daiko is an elongated drum, roughly shaped like a wine barrel, that can be shifted in many different ways that affect the sound of the instrument. The drum can also be played by more than one performer at the same time. This style of drum also signifies the family of drums that are made from a single piece of wood. Nagadō-daiko are available in a variety of sizes, from 1.0 "shaku" (12" in head diameter), to 3.0 shaku in 1 sun increments. The chū-daiko is a medium sized nagadō-daiko. Nagadō-daiko over 3.0 shaku are also available, but they are referred to as ō-daiko (大太鼓 great drum). Smaller byō-uchi-daiko such as the "sumō-daiko" and "hayashi-daiko" also exist.
One of the most memorable drums of many taiko ensembles is the ō-daiko (大太鼓). For many, the ō-daiko solo is the embodiment of power due to the size of the drum, the volume, and the endurance it takes to perform. The ō-daiko is the largest drum of all taiko, if not the entire world. The largest ō-daiko are too big to move and permanently reside inside a temple or shrine. Ō-daiko means "big fat drum", but within any group, it describes the largest drum in an ensemble, which could mean 12 inches (300 mm) in diameter or 12 feet (3.7 m) in diameter. Made from a single piece of wood, some ō-daiko come from trees that are hundreds of years old.
Shime-daiko are available in a wide variety of styles, and are tunable. This style of taiko is typically tensioned before each performance. The tensioning system is usually rope, but bolt systems and turnbuckles have been used as well. Shime-daiko can either have stitched heads placed on bodies carved from single piece of wood, such as the "tsukeshime-daiko", "tsuzumi", or stitched heads placed on a stave-construction body such as the okedo-daiko.
The tsukeshime-daiko is roughly snare-drum sized, and is generally available in five sizes, numbered 1 to 5 with names: "namizuke" / "itchō-gakke", "nichō-gakke", "sanchō-gakke", "yonchō-gakke", and "gochō-gakke". Namizuke has the thinnest skins, often with a patch of deer skin reinforcement in the center, and is used in classical theater such as noh and kabuki. As the numbers increase, so does skin thickness and tension on the skins. The diameters of all tsukeshime-daiko sizes are approximately the same, but the height of the wooden bodies increases in order to provide greater rope leverage in tightening thicker skins.
Other Japanese taiko include the "uchiwa-daiko" (団扇太鼓、fan taiko), "hira-daiko" (平太鼓, flat taiko), "minariisa-daiko" (fun time drum), "konisawa-daiko" (tight/hard/tense drum) and a host of percussion instruments used in Japan's traditional noh, gagaku, and kabuki ensembles.
The "okedō" has its own upright stand which was invented by Asano Taiko Drum Company. Again, like the nagadō-daiko, the okedō has a rim sound, called "ka". When playing the rim of an okedō, however, it is important to hit only the outermost metal ring and not the actual rim of the drum body. The thin, light wood of the okedō is particularly susceptible to denting and will quickly deteriorate if hit. The Aomori region is famous for the Nebuta festival where huge okedo are played by many people while carted through the streets.
Parts of a taiko 
- Ko - the body of the drum.
- Hara - the center of the skin.
- Fuchi - the edge of the top and bottom of the drum.
- Kawa - the skin.
- Mimi - the excess skin that wraps around the side of the taiko.
- Byō - the tacks that hold the skin on a taiko.
- Kanagu, or Kan - the ring shaped handles on larger nagadou taiko. ("Kanagu" literally means metal fixtures, or hardware).
- Nawa - the rope on a shime or okedo I
Types of wood: Japanese name - English equivalent (if any), and use in taiko, antiques, etc.
- Keyaki - Zelkova, used to make single piece taiko and shimedaiko bodies.
- Tochi - Horse Chestnut, used to make single piece taiko bodies.
- Sen - Unknown, used to make single piece taiko and shimedaiko bodies.
- Nara - Scrub Oak, used by Kawada Taiko to make their "Hi-Tech Taikos" which are constructed from staves, also used for Bachi.
- Tamo - Ash, used by Kawada Taiko to make their "Hi-Tech Taikos" which are constructed from staves.
- Hinoki - Cypress, used to make bachi, especially for O-daiko.
- Matsu - Pine, used for bachi, especially for O-daiko.
- Kashi - Evergreen Oak, used for bachi (all sizes), and for dai (stands).
- Haku - Oak (general term).
- Hoo - Magnolia, used for bachi, all sizes.
- Buna - Beech, used for bachi, all sizes.
- Take - Bamboo, used to make fue (flutes), and for special types of bachi.
- Kaede - Maple, used for special bachi.
- Kiri - Paulownia, used for special bachi. Also used in furniture and antiques.
- Sugi - Cedar, used in furniture and antiques.
- Kaba - Birch, used in making western drums.
- Hannoki - Alder, used in furniture and antiques.
According to myth, taiko was started by Ame no Uzume, a shaman-like female deity. One day, fed up with her cruel younger brother, Amaterasu, the sun goddess, hid herself in a cave. The world became pitch dark and the other deities tried to appease Amaterasu, so that world be bright again. They held a big party in front of the cave and Ame no Uzume danced an erotic dance, stamping her feet on a wooden tub. The gods laughed and cheered loudly and the noise provoked Amaterasu to come out her cave. And thus, the world saw light again.
Yayoi period (500 BCE – 300 CE) 
The various drums of taiko are of Chinese origin and were brought to Japan between the Yayoi period (500 BCE – 300 CE). Along with the martial use of the drums, they also held a strong foundation in the court style music called Gagaku, performed in the castles and shrines across ancient Japan. Gagaku alone is one of the oldest styles of court music that is still being played in the world today.
Uses of the taiko in warfare 
In feudal Japan, taiko were often used to motivate troops, to help set a marching pace, and to call out orders or announcements. Approaching or entering a battle, the taiko yaku (drummer) was responsible for setting the marching pace, usually with six paces per beat of the drum (beat-2-3-4-5-6, beat-2-3-4-5-6).
According to one of the historical chronicles (the Gunji Yoshu), nine sets of five beats would summon an ally to battle, while nine sets of three beats, sped up three or four times is the call to advance and pursue an enemy.
Modern taiko 
The United States of America 
Taiko has grown in the United States since coming over from Japan in the late 1960s. The first American taiko group, San Francisco Taiko Dojo, was formed in 1968 by Seiichi Tanaka, a postwar immigrant who studied taiko in Japan and brought the styles and teachings to America. A year later, a few members of Senshin Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles were putting away a drum after an obon festival and decided to have a jam session. After several hours of playing, they decided to form a group. Shortly after, Kinnara Taiko was formed. In 1973, the third American taiko group, San Jose Taiko, was formed in the San Jose area. With the assistance of Seiichi Tanaka, Kinnara Taiko and Midwest Buddhist Temple Taiko, the New York Buddhist church established the first taiko group on the East Coast, Soh Daiko, in 1979.
The video game Wii Music allows the user to virtually play a taiko drum.
In the last decade, taiko drummers have been featured in large-scale musical productions such as the 2005 Mitsubishi Eclipse ad campaign, the 2009 Academy Awards in the "Best Song" musical production, the 2011 Grammy Awards with Justin Bieber and Usher, the semi-finals of NBC's "The Voice" in 2011 with Vicci Martinez, the 2012 Billboard Music Awards with Cee Lo Green, and on the X-Factor in 2012 with Alicia Keys.
TaikOz, a taiko performance group has been performing in Australia since 1997. Members of TaikOz have composed new pieces which are based upon study and performance of drum and flute music from Japan, and the interpretation of music of contemporary Japanese composers such as Maki Ishii and Eitetsu Hayashi.
Highlights include an invitation to present an all-Australian program at Tokyo's National Theatre of Japan alongside Eitetsu Hayashi, Fu-un no Kai and didgeridoo virtuoso, Matthew Doyle. This followed a month-long tour of Australia with Eitetsu and Fu-un no Kai in 2006 marking the 30th Anniversary of the Japan-Australia Friendship Agreement. Further appearances in Japan include TaikOz's 2005 tour where the group presented an all-Australian program at the Hibike Festival in Echizen and collaborative concerts in Kobe with colleagues Wadaiko Matsumuragumi. 
Japanese Canadian taiko began in the 1970s with Katari Taiko and was inspired by the San Jose Taiko group. After World War II, Japanese Canadians were dispersed across the country. Being Japanese at that time meant shame, guilt, and an image of the enemy. Taiko was embraced by Japanese Canadians to capture their culture and heritage. Although not traditionally played in Canada as it is in Japan, it provided a link to the "homeland". Japanese Canadians fuse the 'old' sound with instruments such as saxophone. The movements are rather more theatrical than martial arts. Also, most performers in Canada are women as opposed to the masculine dominance of Japanese taiko. Since 1970 to 2012 almost every major city in Canada has at least one taiko group, usually organized formally or informally with the local Japanese community.
United Kingdom 
Taiko in the United Kingdom has been growing from strength to strength. The first Taiko player in the UK was Joji Hirota, soon followed by the UK's first regularly performing Taiko group, Akatsuki Daiko, set up in 1993. Notable current groups are Mugenkyo, the UK's only professional touring group, Taiko Meantime, Tamashii Daiko and Kagemusha Taiko.
Styles of taiko 
Aside from the usual style of playing taiko, a number of distinct forms have emerged from different locations within Japan.
Hachijō-daiko is a unique style of Japanese drumming originating on Japan's Hachijo Island (Hachijō-jima), located in the Pacific some 287 kilometers south of Tokyo. Hachijō-daiko is an improvisational style of drumming in which the drum is positioned vertically to allow two players to hit either side at the same time. One player provides the underlying beat, or shita-byōshi, while the other builds on this rhythmical foundation with a unique and typically improvised musical composition (ue-byōshi). While there are specific types of underlying bass rhythms (shita-byōshi), the accompanying player is free to express an original musical beat.
Hachijō-jima was once the final destination for political enemies of the ruling government, petty thieves and others banished from the mainland during the 19th century. Home to a diverse population hailing from across the Japanese archipelago the island witnessed the birth of a unique culture with the drum at the center of it all. Among the various Hachijō-daiko rhythms, perhaps the most unusual is the intoxicating honbataki rhythm which is most often sung to by one of the two drummers. These songs of longing and romance once served as a courtship ritual and still do today to some extent on this island where the drum is an integral part of the culture.
One of the most notable and oldest living adherents of Hachijō-daiko is the nonagenarian Kumao Okuyama. Serving as a bridge to 19th century life on Hachijō-jima, Okuyama is regarded as a wellspring of information by ethnomusicologists and historians alike. Popular performers of Hachijō-daiko include the group, Rokuninkai, who regularly appear in concerts and festivals throughout the Japanese archipelago. Today Hachijō-daiko is no longer confined to Hachijō-jima but can be heard all over Japan as well as the U.S. and elsewhere due to a growing musical diaspora that stretches around the globe.
Miyake is a traditional Japanese taiko drumming style that has become known through works of a taiko group Kodo, and is formally called "Miyake-jima Kamitsuki Mikoshi Daiko". The word 'Miyake' comes from Miyake-jima which is an island of the Izu Island chain and located at 180 km south of Tokyo.
The style of Miyake Taiko has developed as a music for Gozu Tenno Sai—a traditional festival held on July in Miyake-jima since 1820. In this festival, they keep playing Miyake Taiko from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. to lead their mikoshi portable shrines going around their town. Akio Tsumura had also played for the festival before Miyake-jima erupted in 2000. After he evacuated from the island, he arranged the original music into a form suitable for musical performance. 
Taiko performance 
There are four different styles of taiko performance:
- Multi-drum, multi-player (複式複打法) - two or more drummers play more than one type of taiko. This style of performance is popular nowadays (also referred to as kumi-daiko (組太鼓)
- Multi-drum, one player (複式単打法) - one drummer plays more than one type of taiko.
- One drum, multi-player (単式複打法) - two or more drummers play only one type of taiko.
- One drum, one player (単式単打法) - one drummer plays only one type of taiko.
The taiko drummer traditionally wears a "happi coat" or "hanten" (a colorful festival coat), "tabi" (split toe shoes), "tekko" (wristbands), momohiki (pants), hachimaki (headband), "haragake" (traditional workman's apron) with a haramaki underneath (a strip of cloth wrapped around the midsection), so most of the upper body is bare. Also seen are sleeveless shirts. Hayashi suggested the fundoshi be worn when performing to the liking of French fashion designer Pierre Cardin seeing Ondekoza perform for him in 1975. The Japanese Taiko group Kodo typically wears fundoshi loincloths.
Taiko ensembles 
Taiko ensembles are groups that are nearly completely drum instruments, with a couple of exceptions. Each of the drums plays a very specific role in the overall aspect of the ensemble. Of the many different styles and shapes of taiko drums, the most common drum found in an ensemble would likely be the nagado-daiko.
Drums are not the only instruments played in the ensemble. They also incorporate a wide variety of other Japanese instruments in their ensembles. Common string instruments found with many different taiko groups would be the biwa, koto, and the shamisen. Of the woodwinds used, the bamboo flutes known as the shakuhachi and the shinobue are popular items.
Famous groups 
- Osuwa Daiko
- San Francisco Taiko Dojo
- San Jose Taiko
- Soh Daiko
Famous soloists 
Related terms 
- Straight wooden sticks used to play taiko drums.
- Also called Jiuchi, is a basic rhythm used to support the main rhythm, or the O-uchi. It can also be described as the meter or feel of a piece (being in a straight duple meter or having a swing feel). Some of the more common rhythms for ji are don doko, don ko, or don go (swing pattern). A Jikata is a performer who plays the ji rhythm.
- Straight simple meter.
- "Swung" compound meter.
- A Japanese term that can mean "interval" or "space" (i.e., 「あ」という間; the space it takes to say 'あ'; compare "in the blink of an eye"). It is used in music to describe a period of silence. In taiko music, ma is the period between hits on the drum. It is important to appreciate this silence when playing taiko, just as you would appreciate the sound of a hit on the drum. Since ensemble taiko is focused on rhythm, the ma of a piece is critical to adding drama, excitement, and tension. Ma can be a rhythmic rest, or an extended silence, to be broken at the player's discretion. If the player concentrates on hearing the ma between each hit, in addition to the hits themselves, he or she will create a much more effective and satisfying sound. A good example of how ma is used is in oroshi.
- Oroshi is characterized by a series of hits on the taiko. The player starts out slowly with lots of 'ma'(spacing). Gradually the 'ma' between each hit becomes shorter and shorter, until the drummer is playing a rapid roll of hits. In other words, a gradual increase in tempo.
- A high pitched hand-held gong played with a small mallet and used to establish a common tempo. It is also referred to as a "kane" or "chanchiki," a name that comes from the kuchi shoga specific to this instrument.
See also 
- Music of Japan for some history of taiko.
- Kuchi shoga, a system used to 'pronounce' taiko sounds.
- Taiko: Drum Master (aka Taiko no tatsujin) is a series of drumming video games
- Turnbull, Stephen (2008). Samurai Armies: 1467-1649. Botley, Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing. p. 49. ISBN 1-84603-351-9.
- "Drum Songs: The Intoxicating Music of Hachijojima" "Wingspan" January 2006.
- "Rokuninkai: Japanese Traditional Percussion Taiko" CD Recording. ASIN B0009OASQ8
Marshall, P. (2000). http://www.drumdojo.com/taiko.htm
Masumi, I. (2001). Reconsidering ethnic culture and community: a case study of Japanese Canadian taiko drumming. Journal of Asian American Studies 4 (1), 35-56. Retrieved from Project Muse.
Yoon, P. J. (2009). Asian masculinities and parodic possibility in odaiko solos and filmic representations. Asian Music 40(1), 100-130. Retrieved from Project Muse.
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- Asai, Susan Miyo (1985). "Hōraku: A Buddhist Tradition of Performing Arts and the Development of Taiko Drumming in the United States". Selected Reports in Ethnomusicology 4: 163–172.
- "Transformations of Tradition: Three Generations of Japanese American Music Making." The Musical Quarterly 79, no. 3 (1995): 429-453. Asian Drums/Kiyoshi Yoshida. Pacific Moon Records, July 2, 2004. Accessed 2005 September 11.
- Bando, Makoto. Hajimete No Wadaiko Ensō [First Japanese Taiko Performance]. Tokyo: Erukurabu, 2003.
- Barakan, P. "Discussion: A Woman Playing Japanese Drums." In Wadaiko, 124-135: Kawade Shobō Shinsha, 1995.
- Bender, Shawn. 2012. Taiko Boom: Japanese Drumming in Place and Motion. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- Bender, Shawn. Drumming from Screen to Stage: Ondekoza's Ōdaiko and the Reimagining of Japanese Taiko. The Journal of Asian Studies (2010), 69: 843-867.
- Bender, Shawn. "Of Roots and Race: Discourses of Body and Place in Japanese Taiko Drumming." Social Science Japan 8, no. 2 (2005): 197-212.
- Big Drum. May 27, 2006. Accessed April 24, 2006.
- Brennan, Michael. Mainstream Movies with Featured Taiko Performances. December 11, 2004. Accessed March 19, 2006.[dead link]
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